Tuesday, July 31, 2012

All I ever wanted to learn about competitive birding

I met my first birders on a trip around the world by ship.  Many of them haunted the top decks of the ship watching for sea birds with their 20x binoculars. I learned about petrels and boobies and shearwaters and gulls...always the gulls.  In particular, there was a young man, a teenager, who was particularly smitten with birds.  Seeing a gull or a masked boobie, produced a look on this young man's face that lit up the ship. I have never known anyone quite like him, and though I never got into birding myself, he produced in me a lifelong affinity for birders. 

This book appeared on the shelves at Borders a few years ago, and I admired it and considered buying it, but opted not to.  I forgot about it until last week when I accidentally happened upon a movie of the same name starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson.

The Big Year is about competitive bird watching (I know--seems like an oxymoron).  People compete to see who can see the most birds in the US in a single calendar year. The book features three men who vie for the title and shows what hardships, deprivation, discomfort and money they will spend in order to catch a rare species and beat the competition.  The book was a journalistic account--written after the year was over and based on extensive interviews with the top three birders.

The movie, written by the journalist who wrote the book, Mark Obmascik, changed some basic details to make the storylines more compelling, but followed the general arc of the competition that was presented in the book.  Believe it or not you do cheer for a winner, you do become intersted in birding, and how to find the rarest of the rare species.  I don't think either book or movie really delved into what makes these people do what they do. Is it the thrill of the chase? The beauty of the birds?  The love of nature? I was never really sure, but it all made for lively story telling.

I think now of my old friend on the ship.  He'd be in his late thirties by now. I assume that once you are a birder you are always a birder, and I hope he read this book and continues with his life list. Perhaps he has even completed a big year. 

It is hard to choose which is better, the book or the movie, especially since the movie has Steve Martin and who doesn't love Steve Martin?  I'd check them both out and then grab your binoculars. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Poetic Cookbook or Poetry about Food

Tamar Adler has written this wonderfully poetic book about cooking and food. There are a few recipes but more importantly she philosophizes on how to cook with what you have in the kitchen, how to make something grand out of simple ingredients, and really, how to live.

She uses and advocates for copious amounts of olive oil and salt, has finally helped me to understand how and why to use all that extra parsley, and she teaches how to cook things ahead of time so that you can enjoy roasted vegetables and egg all week without having to fuss every night.  I understand the importance of tasting all the time so that you can begin to understand how cooking works.  She includes no times for how long food cooks because every cook and every kitchen and every time is different.

She makes cooking and kitchen work and feeding friends and family seem like an act of the divine.  I am having momentary images of clearing out my refrigerator of all processed foods and filling it with see through containers of salsa verde and roasted eggplant and chopped cilantro, and I think I have to get rid of the microwave to make room for the 55 gallon drum of olive oil I will need to buy.

I don't mean to make fun at all; An Everlasting Meal is a lovely book and I want to own it and refer to it often (this one is a library book) so I can create food easily and effortlessly and also, understand how to use all the parts of food--stems and peels and bones. Alas, cleaning out my refrigerator and spending all day Sunday roasting vegetables might have to wait for another lifetime.  It sounds like a grand adventure from the comfort of my living room chair.

Better yet, perhaps Tamar would be my friend and invite me to her table once in awhile.  Thanks to her for this lovely book on food and cooking.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Suddenly this summer, this book appeared on all the bookstore shelves. It seemed to be everywhere I rested my gaze. I resisted it for awhile then, of course, placed it on my library list.  Imagine: How Creativity Works reminded me a lot of the works of Malcolm Gladwell.  Jonah Lehrer takes an idea, in this case, how the creative mind works, and delves into the exploration of that idea through a wide variety of stories and anecdotes.  He backs up his stories with current brain science and social science that helps us to understand why humans can create and how they create.

The book is divided into two parts.  Part I is the story of how individuals create: the origin of those eureka moments, why we need to become more like children in order to be more creative, the necessity of getting away from a problem to solve it.  Part II is how teams become creative.  Lehrer delves into the fascinating story of Pixar Studios, the importance of a seasoned team (with a few newcomers) in creating top entertainment, and why cities make us more creative.

I read it quickly, talked about it at the dinner table and will use a few of its lessons and quotes in my writing workshops.  I highly recommend this great 2012 read.  Library or bookstore, I think you can find it everywhere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ghost Written

Once again, I picked up a tell all, behind the scenes, pseudo-celebrity tale, The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff Mack.  This was the story behind the great Ponzi schemer and notorious crook, Bernie Madoff.  More specifically, Bernie's daughter-in-law, wife of his son Mark, has written her tale, proclaiming her husband's innocence and the great tragedy that befell her and her family when Bernie came tumbling down.

Ms Mack has a sad story to tell and like many memoirs of late, it really needs more time before it can be properly told.  The writer's wrath and anger and vitriol at her horrible misfortune is too fresh.  I would love to read the book she would write in 20 years.  The book is way too angry, and I found myself actually feeling sorry for Ruth Madoff, who she paints as a horrible human being for no other reason than refusing to divorce her husband.

So, if you are interested in this chapter in American financial history, and a version of the story as told by a family member, it is worth reading. It is quite sorrowful (Ms Mack's husband cannot handle the pressure and commits suicide while he is home alone with their baby son.) and could easily be a primer on how to mourn and, again, as always, a testament to the healing powers of telling your story.

But more than anything it made me wonder about the profession of ghost writing.  I noticed after I was almost finished with the book, that there was a second author, a ghost writer, whose name was on the cover page inside.  I wondered what that would be like, to sit by someone who had a front row seat to history, and to talk with her and then piece together her story in a meaningful way: one that suited the teller of the tale, made sense, and was told with drama.  Anyone know how I can get a ghost writing gig? Or better yet, hire me to write your story? I would love to listen.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ahh Billy Collins

Billy Collins is the rock star of the poetry world.  I was at a live performance/taping of A Prairie Home Companion once and Garrison Keillor's guest star was none other than poet Billy Collins. If Prairie Home Companion Fans swoon, then swoon they did over this short balding man.  Will you sign my arm Mr Collins?

Billy Collins made it cool to write poems that you could access easily, read in one sitting, and walk away feeling like you had read something profound.  He also makes you know, without a doubt, that you could be a poet too.

This is the first book of poetry I have ever purchased, and I felt proud to know and love this collection.  I have read it twice now, and I enjoyed every one.  Mr. Collins turns an ordinary activity into a profound revelation.  Pick up any of his books, google his name, find him on poetr.com.  He is always magnificent.  Go ahead, you can be a poet too. Swoon.